Not Living in a Society: An Introduction to Swedish Student Nations
Sam Osmend covers a prominent quirk of Swedish Student life: student nations.
When meeting new people at university, a common question of small talk is often “what societies are you thinking about joining?” In UK universities, societies are often the most effective way to find friendships in people with whom you share a common interest, whether that be rugby, politics or quizzing. This societal set-up is not quite the same if you are a student of Uppsala or Lund University. As a replacement, these universities have ‘student nations’.
Student nations are a kind of fraternity you can join if you are a student at the university.
Student nations are a kind of fraternity you can join if you are a student at the university. Although ‘fraternity’ isn’t a particularly suitable comparison. There’s no Greek letters, no initiations, no cliquey-ness and it’s very relaxed. Each different nation owns its own building complete with their own facilities such as study spaces, cafés and bars. Life in general is fairly expensive when living in Sweden and nation food and drink is a lot cheaper, which is probably the biggest draw for students.
With Uppsala being the oldest university in Scandinavia, it unsurprising to find that these ‘clubs’ have been around for several hundred years. There are 13 in total, one for each of the 13 regions of Sweden. Originally, you would join the nation that corresponds with your home region. So, if you are a local here in Uppsala then you would join Uplands, or if you hailed from Linköping then you would join Östgöta. Nowadays, anyone can join any nation regardless of their origins, with the exception of Snerikes, where you have to prove some familial link to the region in order to gain membership.
The advantage is that you only have to purchase a membership to one nation, and you get access to all facilities provided by all the nations. The experience offered by the nations are on the whole quite similar but there are some perks that distinguish one from another. Generally, these perks come in the form of discounts. For example, because I am a member of Uplands nation, I get BOGOF burgers, however, if I was a member of Stockholm nation, I would get free access to their club nights on Thursdays. Picking a nation to become a member of seems like quite a challenge at first but there is really no pressure to it whatsoever.
the nations provide you with good opportunities to meet international students and Swedes alike
With no societies tailored to specific interests then how does social life function when studying at Uppsala? Honestly, it can be a bit laissez-faire as the nations act more as a hub to socialise with people you already know, rather than a place to meet new people. It means you have to put in a bit more effort in the initial stages to get involved. Having said that, all of the nations host a wide variety of events, including sexas and gasques (informal and formal dinners respectively), and some participate in intramural-style organised sport. So in many ways, the nations do provide you with good opportunities to meet international students and Swedes alike.
The generalised nature of the nations as opposed to the more specialist societies provide a different sort of social experience. It avoids the cliques that can sometimes emerge at societies which results in there being a more familial feeling with the nations. It’s a very laid-back approach to student life and it allows you to shape your experience more easily. I think this flexibility is the trade-off with how connected you feel to the wider student body. However, for such a wide student body of about 50,000, at such a traditional university, the system maintains itself and will continue to be at the centre of student life here in Uppsala.
Editor: Ryan Gerrett